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No. 114: Nov-Dec 1997

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Do woodcocks "grunt" for worms?

Earthworms have a potentially fatal habit: When they detect vibrations propagating through the ground, they quickly squirm their way to the surface. Perhaps they think a mole is tunneling after them, or maybe rain is beating down above. Whatever goes through their "minds," they emerge on the surface in response to vibrations and may be snapped up by several species that know their weakness.

Human fishermen know the worms' weakness and "grunt" for them in several ways; say, by drawing a notched stick across the trunk of a small tree to generate vibrations. Wood turtles are said to "stomp" for worms. (SF#65) Kiwis and Kagus also stomp for their dinner. (Kagus are rather strange birds found in New Caledonia.) We have just learned that Woodcocks will beat their wings against the ground to coax earthworms within range.

(Hennigan, Tom; "A Wonderfully Bizarre Bird," Creation/Ex Nihilo, 19:54, September-November 1997.)

Comment. Woodcocks seem to lure worms to the surface in still another way: They "bob" or "rock" their body in a most peculiar manner. It is thought that the resulting pressure waves are transmitted to the ground through their feet and that these bring their favorite prey to where they can be grasped.

(Marshall, William H.; "Does the Woodcock Bob or Rock -- and Why?" The Auk, 99:791, 1982.)

The American Woodcock The American Woodcock -- a very strange bird, said to fly off with its chicks clasped between its thighs!

From Science Frontiers #114, NOV-DEC 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987